Traveling to Italy and visiting Milan, the heart of Lombardy region, is always a good choice. A city with its own charm, full of glamour, history and art. There is always opportunity to walk through its dazzling galleries and enjoy the latest fashion trend from the most recognized brands. However, the city is not just shopping, fashion and glamor. There are several monuments and places of interest to see in Milan that you should not miss on your trip. Beautiful palaces, large squares and an incredible cathedral make Milan a very complete city to visit in a day or two.
This travel guide describes the best activities to do and places to see in Milan so you can visit the city without missing the essentials
1. What to see in Milan: Piazza del Duomo to start touring the city.
The Duomo Square or, “Piazza del Duomo”, is the initial point for any tour and not just because it is the geographical center of the city. Because it is also the heart of Milan’s artistic and cultural life.
In the square are some of the most important buildings in the city. First and most significant, is the magnificent Duomo di Milano. Then, there is the glamorous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. And last but not least the Palazzo Reale Milano and the Palazzo dell’Arengario (also called Museo novecento). Finally, almost in the center of the square, stands a great monument to the first Italian King Vittorio Emanuele II.
At first the name of the square was Piazza dell’Arengo since the Palace was built prior to the Milan Duomo. After its construction, the square name changed to Piazza del Duomo. The square emerged in the fourteenth century when small taverns next to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (church that existed before the Duomo) were demolished. Although, its look changed over the years, it was not until the 19th century that Giuseppe Mengoni gave it the actual appearance and size.
Thousands of people gather in the square every day. Some of them to admire the cathedral others strolling through the galleries or just enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of the Piazza. Whatever the reason is, it’s impossible not to pass through the Piazza del Duomo.
2. What to see in Milan: Milan Cathedral or “il Duomo di Milano”.
The Cathedral of Milan or, il Duomo di Milano, is the most iconic postcard of the city. If you search “Milan” in google, the first image that appears is the beautiful Cathedral.
Architecture of the Milan Cathedral.
The meaning of Duomo is God’s house and what a house it has in Milan. In fact the cathedral is the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world, only behind the Cathedral of Seville. It is 158 meters long, 92 wide and reaches its highest peak at 108.5 meters high. The Milan Duomo is mostly Gothic with its large number of peaks, although it has some Renaissance touches.
From the outside you can see a large number of needles on its roof. 135 needles to be exact (which can even be sponsored) and more than 2,500 stone statues and gargoyles that tell the history of the city.
The interior of the cathedral is just as dazzling as the exterior. It is divided into five naves, a central one 45 meters high, and four lateral naves separated by at least forty pillars.
What stands out the most from the interior are the huge windows full of color images. In addition you will find a large number of monuments and works of art such as the impressive statue of Saint Bartholomew by Marco da Agrate.
Moreover, inside is a meridian formed by a line that runs through the cathedral with images of the zodiac signs. So, a small hole in the vault allows the sun to penetrate indicating the zodiac of the month.
History of the Duomo di Milano.
It all began in 1386 when Archbishop encouraged the construction of the Cathedral to replace the one that existed at that time. With the aim of organizing the project, an institution called Fabbrica del Duomo de Milano was created. Nowadays still exists working on the upkeep, preservation and restoration of the Cathedral.
However, the construction was not without problems. For a long time the construction was practically stopped due to the lack of money and financing. Moreover, many discussions surged during the construction and several architects passed through the cathedral. There were many ideas but none of them managed to progress definitively, just some small contributions.
Much later, it was Napoleon in 1805, who was about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered to complete the facade. In his enthusiasm, he assured that all expenses would fall on the French treasury, which would reimburse the Fabbrica for all the properties that it had to sell. Although Frech never paid this refund, this ultimately helped, in just seven years, the cathedral to have its facade finished. In gratitude, one of the Cathedral pinnacles has a statue of Napoleon on top.
Finally, in the 20th century, the final details of the Milan Duomo were completed: the last door was inaugurated on January 6, 1965. However, the restoration works that covered the main facade of the cathedral ended in December 2008.
Duomo di Milano entrance and fee.
The Duomo of Milan has several types of tickets. The price depends on which sectors you want to enter, if you access the terrace, if you go up by elevator or if you want to enter faster. Generally the most complete Duomo ticket includes a guide in several languages.
The best and fastest way to access the terrace is to buy the tickets online and that they have the fast track option, otherwise we will have to queue at the cathedral to buy the entrance to the Duomo and then queue to enter. The value is € 25 per adult.
You can also buy the individual ticket for the area you want to enter. For example, to enter the cathedral only without going up to the terrace or going to the museums, you get € 3 and you can also enter for free the Crypt of San Carlo and the archaeological area – Baptistery of St. Stephen.
Of course, it is advisable to buy tickets to the Duomo in advance because it is very likely that you will not find them for the same day, or even have few left for the next day.
In short, regardless of whether you like architecture or not, the Duomo is one of the places that you should definitely see in Milan. If you want you can admire its beauty from the outside but for € 3 it is almost impossible not to enter even the cathedral. However, if you want to have a beautiful view of Piazza del Duomo and admire many of the sculptures up close, it is highly recommended to go up to the cathedral terrace.
3. What to see in Milan: The Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a beautiful building where two perpendicular streets covered by arches of glass and cast iron give it the appearance of a gallery.
The architect Giuseppe Mengoni built The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II between the years 1865 and 1877. However, shortly before the inauguration he tragically died falling from a scaffold. Today as a commemoration to Giuseppe there is a plaque in one of the hallways.
The objective of the Gallery was to connect two of the most beautiful squares in Milan, the Duomo and the Scala. After a short time it became one of the most popular places in the city.
Along the four dazzling corridors of the gallery you will find some of the most important stores in the entire city. Famous brands such as Prada, Gucci, Armani or Louis Vuitton are in this Gallery. Also you can enjoy the most prestigious restaurants, cafes and bars like Pasticceria Marchesi, the Savini restaurant or the Bar Campari.
Not only you can walk the corridors but you can also go up to the upper floors. For example, on the first you can access to Marchesi cafeteria from where you can have beautiful views of the central gallery while you you have a cappuccino (use stairs from the Prada uomo store).
In the gallery there is a mosaic with a bull that represents the shield of Turin, (historical rival of Milan). The tradition says that it brings good luck (or you return to Milan) to make three turns with your right heel and with your eyes closed on the animal’s testicles.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is imbued with a very particular atmosphere, elegance, good taste, design and delicacy that makes it one of the icons of the city and one of the must-see places in Milan.
4. What to see in Milan: Teatro alla Scala.
The Scala Square, or Piazza della Scala, was built in 1858 after the demolition of many medieval buildings. This important square connects with the Duomo Square through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
In the square you will find the Palazzo Marino, current headquarters of the Milan City Council, a great monument to Leonardo da Vinci and the famous Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
Teatro alla Scala.
Teatro alla Scala is one of the most prestigious lyric theaters in Europe. Great operas like Madame Butterfly and Otello were released in this this place. Also recognized singers passed through this stage, Luciano Pavarotti, María Callas, Cecilia Bartoli or Plácido Domingo among others.
Initially, the theater in Milan had a different location but after a fire that completely destroyed it, it was decided to rebuild it here. However, in order build the theater in this location, it was necessary to tear down an old church called Santa Maria della Scala. For this reason both, the Theater and the Square, adopt the name of Scala.
If you judge the theatre from outside, it will not give you the impression of being amazing as the one in Vienna. Although, the true beauty reflects on its interior. Its huge horseshoe-shaped room, full of golden details and red tapestries make the theater reflects its magnificence.
The Theater also has its own Museum which houses numerous collections linked to theater activity. Also it has other curios particularities such as a model plaster of Chopin hand, the spinet where he learned to touch Verdi or the death mask of Puccini.
The theatre season begins on December 7th, the day of Saint Ambrose, patron saint of the city. The value of the ticket costs from € 20 to € 500 according to the show and the location. However, if you want to enjoy a play at the Teatro della Scala in Milan, you should buy the ticket in advance.
There is also the possibility to take guided tours through the theater and learn about its history, its different workshops and even witness a rehearsal.
5. What to see in Milan: The Sforzesco Castle.
Sforzesco Castle was built in 1368 as a fortress to protect the city from entry by invaders. Later it was reformed to be the palace where the Duke of Milan would lived. After some time, the Sforza family reformed the Castle and the Duke, known as “the Moro”, was in charge of making it popular. The most illustrious persons of the court met every week in great galas. Renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and important musicians of the time participated.
Nowadays, the Sforza Castle is home to several museums. The most popular one is the Museum of Ancient Art, knowning for keeping Michelangelo’s last work, the unfinished “Pietà Rondanini”. On the upper floor is a large collection of paintings with works by Leonardo da Vinci.
Also you can visit the Pinacoteca where paintings of Italian artist from the 13th to the 18th century are exhibited. The Milan Archaeological Museum, with pieces and objects from Ancient Egypt and the Museum of Musical Instruments.
The entrance to the Castle and its parks is free, being able to see the galleries and the impressive courtyard. However, if you want to visit the museums the ticket price is € 5. Nevertheless, from Tuesday to Thursday the admission is free from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
6. What to see in Milan: Enjoy the Sempione Park.
With almost 40 hectares, the Sempione is the largest park in Milan. This green lung located in the city center was first the garden of the Sforzesco Castle. Napoleon gave its actual apparience in the 18th century when he decided to build a forum in the classical way. Only the Civic Arena and the Arch of Peace remain from the original project, very similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The Sempione Park is a very good place to relax enjoying the nature and the sun outdoors. You can walk among the different paths, sit in front of the lake, feed the ducks or just relax on the green grass.
Additionally, in the park you will find other attractions and museums that you can visit. The Palace of Art, headquarters of the Triennale Design Museum. This is a contemporary art museum primarily dedicated to design, architecture, music, and the audiovisual arts. The entry costs € 10.
The Civic Aquarium is a building from the year 1906 Universal Exposition that still stands. Among its biggest attractions is the tunnel made of glass that passes under a huge tank filled with different species. The entrance ticket is € 5.
The White Tower of Giò Ponti, is an observation tower almost 110 meters high. You can go up for € 6 and from the top you get an incredible view of the city. On clear days you can see the Alps and the Apennines as a backdrop.
7. What to see in Milan: Walk along the Canals of Milan (Navigli).
In Milan there is a beautiful neighborhood that stands out for its two channels: il Naviglio Grande and il Naviglio Pavese. But it also stands out for being the most alternative neighborhood in the city. It is located just a few metro stations away from the center of Milan, or 30 min walk from the Duomo.
In 1179 a network of artificial channels was built with the idea of connecting the city of Milan to the sea. Although they did not achieve their goal, it allowed to transport goods and passengers from other parts of Europe. It is important to mention that thanks to the channels it was possible to transport the marbles necessary for the construction of the Duomo di Milano.
The construction of these 90 kilometers of channels took almost 35 years. During a long time, they were used with numerous problems derived from its bad construction. However, everything would changed in the 15th century when one of the greatest geniuses in history appeared, Da Vinci. His proposals to improve the dams turned these little navigable channels into true access routes to the center of Milan. They even got to connect the center with Lake Como.
During three or four centuries, channels were essential for Milan’s communication with the world. However, from the 19th century on these types of trips were replaced by faster trains and trams. As a result, the channels lost relevance for the life of the city. In 1929, to improve the structure of the city, all the ramifications of the navigli were covered.
What to see in the Navigli neighborhood of Milan.
In this area of Milan there are several places to see and things to do. Walk among the canals, flanked by colorful houses on one side and moored boats on the other. Enjoy the navigli with its banks full of restaurants, bars, cafes and businesses, all in a lively and relaxed atmosphere. You can also visit the very well preserved Church of San Cristóforo; or the Alley of the washerwoman where the women of the humblest class used to meet and wash their clothes.
On Saturdays a small market of regional food, books and other curiosities opens. In the same way, every last Sunday of the month, a large antique market is set up on the banks of the canals.
However, not only is a neighborhood to enjoy during the day but also is one of the areas with the most nightlife in Milan. In this place you will find a lot of bars and places to dance, Ayers Rock, Batik or Kopi Club for instance.
Without any doubt, the Canals of Milan are quite an activity to do in Milan.
8. What to see in Milan: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper (Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie).
The Santa Maria delle Grazie church is located in the square of the same name. In particular, this church built in 1492, has as its main attraction one of the most famous paintings in history made by Leonardo Da Vinci between 1495 and 1497, The Last Supper.
This work represents the last supper of Jesus with his disciples. It portrays a rather dramatic moment when Jesus announces to his disciples that one of them will betray him. Countless details, such as the location of each character, the expressions on the faces, the glasses and loaves of the table, the folds of the tablecloth, the cold light that illuminates the scene, realize the genius of the artist and explain why this The work had such an influence on other artists.
For years, hidden messages have been searched in many of Leonardo da Vinci’s works, and this, his masterpiece, could not be the exception. And it is true that there are hidden symbols, some of which have been deciphered. Also the film “The Da Vinci Code” makes mention of these mysteries behind this artwork.
The famous painting has suffered from quite a few mishaps over time. Due to its dry plaster work, the work began to deteriorate and the different wars wreaked havoc on the painting. Miraculously, during the World War II, the church was almost completely demolished but the wall containing the work remained standing.
Today, the Last Supper has been almost entirely restored. It is in a controlled environment, and has been subjected to many conservation techniques to keep it in good condition and thus prevent it from deteriorating.
Tickets The Last Supper Leonarda Da Vinci.
To enter to see Da Vinci’s work of art it is necessary to reserve the ticket online. In addition, it must be taken into account to do it well in advance due to the large number of people who visit the place. The visits are made in groups of 25 people for only 15 minutes to avoid contributing to the deterioration. An important fact is that photographs are not allowed.
The entry price to see the artwork is € 12 per person, plus € 2 if you book online but without a guided tour. People up to 25 years old and over 65 years old pay reduced rates.
9. What to see in Milan: The Quadrilatero d´oro shops.
Milan is the city par excellence of fashion and therefore of business. Whether you like fashion or not, it is an area that if or if you have to see in Milan. Not only to make purchases, but also to see and understand a little of the culture and idiosyncrasy of the city.
The most ‘glamorous’ area is the one formed by the streets of the so-called golden square. Between the Vias Monte Napoleone, Santo Spinto, Monzoni and Via della Spiga, it is where the great designers of international fashion gather, showing their exuberant collections in the old palaces that formerly belonged to the Milanese nobility.
The stores that are in this golden space are Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Cavalli, Armani, Valentino among others. The premises are sumptuous luxury, surrounded by cafes and hairdressers of the same level. It is a very picturesque area to walk and look at shops, surrounded by very well-kept buildings and full of charm: the details on each corner are surely the most outstanding icons of these streets.
Outlets and sales in Milan.
The ideal thing when you visit Milan is to go to the sales or the clothes that have gone out of fashion but that are still as beautiful as they were in their moment of splendor. Most stores, at the end of each season (in January and July), make big sales and what was impossible until yesterday, perhaps you could afford it. It should be clarified that Milan is the queen of outlets, fantastic places where you can find clothes by renowned designers at realistic prices.
Brian & Barry is a 12-storey building dedicated to clothing and accessories from the most famous brands and avant-garde designers. This shopping center is located near Piazza San Babila.
DMAG!, is a small store where you can find all kinds of offers. Very well designed clothes at affordable prices.
Serravalle Outlet, is the largest shopping center in Europe and the most important in Italy, is the diva of the offers and sales! It is a kind of small town where you can find the best brands, Versace, Armani, Prada or Nike, and their clothes at discounted prices (up to 70%). Although it is not in the city of Milan proper, but it is relatively close. Also, if you prefer, most of the tour companies in Milan offer excursions to this place.
You can also go to the tourist offices where they provide a list of houses with stock from previous seasons and at a discount.
10. What to see in Milan: Explore the Brera, San Marco and Porta Nuova neighborhoods.
The Brera neighborhood is the most bohemian area but with the luxurious touch that characterizes Milan. The neighborhood encompasses the streets via Brera, via Solferino, via Pontaccio, Via Fiori Chiari, Via Madonnina, Corso Garibaldi and Corso Como. Throughout the area you will find outdoor cafes, many exclusive shops, bars and restaurants. In addition, there are other interesting places to see in Milan such as the famous art gallery “The Academy of Fine Arts” and some churches with their particularities. The church San Simpliciano, San Marco or Il Carmine.
Connected to the Brera neighborhood you can reach the Porta Nova. This is the modern financial district where the best contemporary architecture is found. For example, you can see the Unicredit Tower, the Aria Tower (or vertical forest) or the Diamond Tower. However, it also has become one of the new leisure areas of the city and preferred by the Milanese. The doors that give entrance to the neighborhood are the Garibaldi Gate and the New Gate or triumphal arch (Napoleon had it built in 1810).
A detail to know while you are touring these trendy neighborhoods is to go to the 10 Corso Como gallery. It is a multi-cultural space that offers a hotel, restaurant, boutique, art gallery, bookshop and a chic atmosphere like everything that can be seen and enjoyed in Milan.
Excursions from Milan.
Milan is very well located for day trips to Bologna, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Verona, Lake Garda or Lago di Como. With distances from one to two hours of travel, the options are many.
You can even get to know the Swiss alps with the Bernina Express red train, or you can also drive a Ferrari just outside Milan.
What to eat in Milan.
If we have to talk about a traditional dishes in Milan, the classic risotto is the “Risotto alla Milanese” is the most popular. It is the rice prepared with saffron that is often combined with the Osso Buco (a piece of slowly braised meat).
Another of the well-known dishes of Milanese cuisine is “Cotoletta alla Milanese”. It is beef prepared in the “schnitzel” style, covered in breadcrumbs and fried in butter, usually accompanied by vegetables or salad.
If you are still hungry, you should taste “Los mondeghili”. They are a kind of meatballs made with minced meat, bread and eggs. They are generally served with tomato sauce and fried potatoes or pumpkin.
Where to eat in Milan?
The first thing to note, Milan is not one of the cheapest cities. However, you still can get cheap food.
To point out, if you want to eat sitted in a restaurant, you will most likely be charged a fee, just by sitting at the table. The cutlery can cost between € 2 to € 6 per person depending on the place. Therefore, you already leave with a + € 2 in the account.
Now, to eat pizza and pasta, the trattoria Mozzarella E Basilico in Piazzetta Pattari 4 is a very good option very close to the Duomo. Generally it is quite crowded with people but it is worth it for the quality and the price. The pizzas range from € 7 to € 10 plus € 2 for the table service.
Brak restaurant in Piazzetta Umberto Giordano 1 is always a good choice. This chain of restaurants is self-service but they also offer set menus of the day. Both options are very cheap with lunch menus at € 7 and dinner at € 11. The good thing is that they do not charge cutlery.
One of the most famous places to eat in Milan is the Luini Panzerotti, very close to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Via Santa Radegonda 16. It is so famous and well-known that there is always a line to buy. The most traditional food are the panzerotti but it has a variety of salty options such as sweets. It is a must do in Milan.
Panzerotti is like an empanada, or small calzone, with wheat flour dough traditionally filled with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. There are also other varieties such as stuffed with onion and olives with ham.
Where to stay in Milan? Best places.
The best place to stay in Milan is as close as possible to the Piazza del Duomo. However, it is very likely that accommodations in this area would be quite expensive.
If you are looking for a cheaper but functional accommodation, Brera and Navigli neighborhoods are always a good option. This areas of the city are close to the city center and cheaper at the same time.
Furthermore, if you are still looking for lower prices, the neighborhoods of Guastalla, Ticinese and Porta Monforte are also good places to stay. The Duomo di Milano is just a few minutes walk from these neighborhoods and therefort, from the metro too. Also, in these areas, you have many options of restaurants, bars or supermarkets.
Here are some recommendations for accommodation in Milan:
Hotel March 22
City Center Best hostel
So, what do you say now? would you like to travel to Milan? If you know any other activity to do or place to see in Milan, you can leave me a comment. Also if you have any questions, you can ask me and I will try to help you.